Cover Image: Filthy Animals

Filthy Animals

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Member Reviews

I’m judging the L.A. Times 2020 and 2021 fiction contest. It’d be generous to call what I’m doing upon my first cursory glance—reading. I also don’t take this task lightly. As a fellow writer and lover of words and books, I took this position—in hopes of being a good literary citizen. My heart aches for all the writers who have a debut at this time. What I can share now is the thing that held my attention and got this book from the perspective pile into the read further pile. 

I’m a long time fan of Brandon Taylor’s work… the first story Potluck was compelling in a way that I haven’t experienced in a lot of stories. Interested in seeing how these stories and characters lives intertwine. Was happy to see the same characters reappear in Flesh.
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The writing style of this author just doesn’t flow with me. I prefer long descriptive sentences that flourish with detail rather than short, journalistic like writing that delivers information in a bite. Could not finish this book but I’m sure the story is good!
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Very pleasantly surprised by this lovely little novel. Heartbreaking and haunting, these lightly related stories will stay with me for a long time.
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I don't really know how to rate this. I really enjoyed some of the stories and then found myself skimming others. I did like the main story that focused around the love triangle and would have preferred to read a book just on the three characters trying to figure their lives out.

That said, this book is super melancholy.  It totally affected my mood while reading. Taylor is a very gifted writer and I think his fans will really like this!
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Booker Prize Finalist and CPL Best of the Best Author of the novel Real Life, Brandon Taylor, revisits scenes of midwestern life in Filthy Animals.  With sexuality and intimacy leading the way, this character-driven collection of short stories pushes the boundaries of relationships rummaging through the lives of the characters as they connect with themselves and the world around them.  Some of the stories are interconnected with reoccurring characters navigating an open relationship while others are contained in their own messy, yet strangely beautiful interpretations of life and living like the story of a growing relationship between two women in “Anne of Cleves”.  Taylor's writing is uninhibited and portrays life in a very real way excavating distressing, unruly, and melancholic bits in a mosaic of uncomfortable tension and desire.  This is by no means a light-hearted collection and the ways in which the characters are exposed can be unnerving at times, but this is just a small part of what makes this collection so great.  This is a great read for fans of provocative short story collections like Salt Slow by Julia Armfield and Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch.
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Filthy Animals, Brandon Taylor’s second book, is a fascinating look into the lives of people struggling with their identities. He set out to write an in-depth character study looking at people whom society might consider “filthy animals,” but by revealing the inner workings of the characters, Taylor allows the reader to get beyond that label and realize that this type of marginalization conceals the humanity of each individual. By composing captivating sketches of the characters who reveal their inner struggles with suicide, sexual identity, and even attempted murder, he conveys to readers how events in people’s lives affect how they construct their identity and the repercussions of those constructions. The author often depicts harsh situations that paint strong pictures of character’s inner turmoil, but does so in a way that makes their struggles poignant to the reader.  
    While the work is a collection of individual short stories, many of them are linked by the characters of Lionel, Sophia, and Charles. A few, like “Filthy Animals” and “Anne of Cleves,” have nothing to do with the trio; however, most deal with them either directly or through a character connected to one of them. This structure is effective in allowing a more in-depth account of the events experienced by these characters. For example, the collection begins and ends with a story focusing on Lionel and his relationship with Charles. The first story is their introduction to one another and their sexual encounter, and the last is a snapshot of that meeting. By beginning and ending the work in this way, Taylor brings a sense of closure to the stories that makes this feel more like a novel than a short story collection, providing the reader a much deeper insight by showing the interrelationships that they have to one another and how those networks affect their identity and ways of thinking and constructing themselves. 
    Additionally, Taylor’s use of internal and external dialogue also effectively reveals the identity construction of the characters, both supplying reasons for and reactions to the way people must deal with those constructed roles and the necessity of tearing these down to find their authentic self. Within each story, the author delves into difficult issues such as suicide, cancer, attempted murder, and rape and does not approach these topics delicately. Instead, he reinforces their seriousness. Most poignant is the story of Lionel and his suicide attempt. While Taylor provides details about this harrowing moment, they are not graphic or gory. Instead, he chooses to deal with it by focusing on areas like Lionel’s scars and how they influence his interaction with others and drive his inner thoughts. For example, in the story “Proctoring,” Sophia looks at and touches his scars in the café. Lionel then goes on to tell Sophia of the confusion and pain that he went through before the attempt and how he felt trapped within those emotions. Such a depiction allows the reader to empathize with his struggle to readjust to normal life after feeling like life would never be livable again. Note, however, although not graphic, the description of Lionel’s struggle could trigger those who have exhibited suicidal tendencies.  
    While much is said of Lionel’s suicide throughout the stories, one particularly noteworthy aspect of his self-harm that Taylor investigates is the notion of bravery. For Lionel, ending one’s life is a brave action, while for his friend/lover Charles, the bravest action is to continue on after the attempt. In Lionel’s thoughts, the reader hears, “But there was nothing noble in suffering. There was nothing brilliant or good about the failed endeavor to exit one’s life. There was nothing courageous about the persistence of life…” (167). The contrast between the two perspectives effectively demonstrates how two people can experience the world in two very different ways. Taylor is showing the audience that people experience the world differently, and that society should be more understanding and try to comprehend these different world views, rather than enforcing the norm on people who do not fit into that category. By allowing the reader into the thoughts of the characters, Taylor opens up their inner workings in a way that encourages empathy with the characters and allows one to move past negative judgements that society might encourage.  
    One of Taylor’s more prevalent explorations is sexual identity. This collection is an important addition to the array of fictional works that chronicle the struggle that queer individuals face. Particularly moving is the story of Hartjes and the ill treatment he received from his mother. She clearly shows favoritism toward Hartjes’ brother and turns her back on Hartjes when he is young because of his queer identity. Taylor uses gritty language to show the hatred that some direct towards others because of their sexuality. While remembering the time he was stung by wasps as a child, Hartjes recalls his mother telling him, “That’s what faggots get’” (60). While the language is often offensive, it reinforces the abusive nature of the animosity directed at members of the queer community. Not only do readers see how the characters are, but they also experience each character’s internal struggle with their identity, often caused by people who are supposed to love them. Another example is in the chapter about Marta. Her ex-boyfriend says, “…well, I heard that you’re a dyke now” (131). This encounter leads her to submerge herself in a tub of water, fully clothed, where she grapples with the notion that others have taken away something private in her life. Throughout, Taylor effectively demonstrates the realities still faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community.  
    Taylor’s first novel, Real Life, is award-winning, and Filthy Animals is set to follow in its footsteps. This collection is perfect for anyone who enjoys modern American literature that is hard hitting. As a deep psychological study of struggle, it succeeds in allowing readers to live through the characters and understand that people considered “filthy animals” are not that, but humans simply trying to deal with the difficult situations in their lives. They are trying to negotiate an identity that society looks down, in ways that, oftentimes, the characters are not fully equipped to manage.
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Thanks Riverhead & NetGalley for the e-ARC.
I have very mixed feelings about this one!! 

The collection has strong themes of stifled emotions, violent impulses, and familial expectation. I really enjoyed Anne of Cleves, Mass, and What Made Them Made You. The story Filthy Animals has also really stuck with me, despite struggling to read the violence at the time. The book as a whole has grown on me as I continue reflecting on it.

Brandon Taylor is so good at writing awkward, aloof, angsty characters. But, a lot of the characters ended up feeling too similar for my liking, especially when all presented back-to-back in a short story collection.

I also unfortunately didn’t love the interconnected stories that made up half the book. I’ve never seen a short story collection where every other story was connected, and I’d love to know more about the decision to do that vs. a novella and short stories. I did really enjoy Potluck, which was able to stand a bit more on its own because it was the first story. But then, once the story spread out beyond just one dramatic night, it became more meandering. Multiple of the stories within the Sophie, Charles, and Lionel saga felt like we were just watching these characters go in circles around each other, with repetitive stilted conversations and cruelty towards each other. I’m very curious what the impact of each individual story would’ve been on their own, since many of them were first published as separate stories. Since the story kept going, I think I expected a larger culminating event by the end. Maybe the quiet, extended view of the peaks and valleys of a few days in these character’s lives just wasn’t what I was hoping for with a short story collection.
But within that storyline, I did appreciate seeing a glimpse into the world of dancing, particularly how a dance program looks in comparison to other academia. How their work hinges on the health of their bodies, in comparison to Lionel’s mental illnesses affecting his ability to complete his graduate program. How our aspirations often expect too much of us in one way or another.
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Better than average, linked stories of various characters in intimate situations, some uncomfortably sexual. My favorite story was Mass, about Sasha who has to get a biopsy done. Well crafted and vulnerability captured well. The situations are more memorable than the characters but worth a read.

Copy provided by the publisher and NetGalley
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Strong stories! I didn't like the stories as much as I liked his novel, but I'm very glad I got more of Taylor's writing so soon. Nuanced and particular observations and details. The stories about Sophie, Charlie and Lionel were the strongest. I don't know why there were stories included that we're about them or the satellite characters. Excited for what's next.
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A perfect collection to me. It’s a masterclass in the mortifying ordeal of being known. Loved every story, had several sentences and paragraphs fully punch me in the gut, the last scene left me feeling like a giant bell being hit by a hammer. #ShortStorySummer is officially upon us, my friends.
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A strong collection by a talented writer. Some of it could be thought of as a fractured novella, and so some sections don't seem to hold their own, but do work in totality. This is a minor quibble, but does alter the reading experience.
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Loved this collection of linked short stories. We begin at a pot luck where Lionel, Charles and Sophie meet, and these characters feature throughout, though not in all the stories. Some are linked through themes of trauma, identity and loneliness. Each story felt so intimate, some melancholy and quiet, others more visceral and brutal. Each inner life is captured with subtly, the dialogue cleverly giving so much back story in just a few words, and mundane moments feel so significant. Loved the writing, will definitely read more from Brandon Taylor.
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This was an excellent collection of short stories. I  like how the stories centered around Lionel/Charles/Sophie were woven through the rest and we get to see different perspectives. This is always something short stories leave me craving. I also thought they were the strongest stories of the collection, although I did enjoy Anne of Cleves and What Made Them Made You. Taylor is a tremendous writer. I love how he describes the moments that make up ordinary lives, how he dissects the vulnerabilities, the fantasies, the longing, the hoping, the trauma that lies beneath these everyday personas. His writing is so poignant, it’s makes me overwhelmingly sad but in a truly enjoyable way.
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While Taylor's writing remains beautiful and subtle, I struggled to connect with these stories. Real Life will remain one of my favorites and I eagerly await more from this author.
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Filthy Animals is a raw, intimate, and vulnerable contemporary short story collection containing 11 stories total, where 6 of the stories are contained within a larger continuing framework story about a trio of people whose lives intersect, and 5 are one-off short stories.

The connected set follows Lionel, recovering from a recent hospital stay; and Charles and Sophie, two dancers in an open relationship.

Favorite stories: “Anne of Cleves”, about a budding sapphic relationship, which is probably now one of my favorite short stories overall; “What Made Them Made You”, about a cancer diagnosis and family dynamics; and "Proctoring", which is part of the connected set of stories and dives into Lionel's life.

Overall, I liked the 5 standalone stories more than the connected framework story, but that is less a comment on the quality of the framework story and more a comment on how much I liked the non-connected stories.

TW for mentions of self harm, suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, eating disorder, rape, racism, homophobia

Thank you to Netgalley, the author, and Riverhead Books for providing this digital ARC for review!
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Brandon Taylor can write - no doubt about that. In these linked stories he portrays the many nuanced layers of violence, sadness, loneliness, and complexity of relationships in stunning prose. There was some repetition and a little something missing when compared to his novel, but still very much worth picking up. I will read absolutely anything he writes going forward.
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Thank you to @netgalley and @riverheadbooks for the ARC. Thanks also to @bookchampions for doing this as a modified buddy read with me!⁣
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Last year, Taylor’s Real Life swept me off my feet with beautiful writing and astute attention to detail and the human condition. There is an unabashed bravery in Taylor’s writing that wrestles with the things we often try to avoid: isolation, loss, longing, and awkwardness. I was happy to see that continue with this short story collection. ⁣
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Many have been quick to note the interconnectedness of half of the stories, but after some thought and consideration I can see why the author chose to separate these tales instead of pushing them together like a novella. His keen awareness to point of view, I think, may be what decided this. Each story, though they have some similar characters and situations, stands alone from a unique vantage point. I think there is some power in that. ⁣
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Melancholy runs rampant, the juxtaposition and integration of beauty and desire and violence and want are on every single page. Some stories, admittedly, work more than others. Some favorites include: “As Though That Was Love,” “Filthy Animals,” and “Mass” but I highly recommend the entire collection as a masterclass in short story writing whether you read some or all.
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A test proctor. Several angry young men. A wild babysitter, a wilder child. 

Brandon Taylor is one of those rare authors who can bring you into a world believed to be ordinary and leave you wandering unexpected grounds. In this searing short story collection, the writer of "Real Life" — a novel slated to become a film starring (and produced by) Kid Cudi — continues to map a Midwest that writhes and bucks with life. In the pages of "Filthy Animals", people breathe, fight, and feel in ways no one wise could ever fly over.

The best short stories burn bright and quick, yet manage to create lasting marks. Taylor's steady prose and introspective characters make for a brief reading experience, but will keep you company for years to come. You’ll find yourself enraptured by polyamorous dancers, a lapsed mathematician, a dying woman, an academically-engrossed lesbian who thinks every woman can be sorted by which of Henry VIII’s wives they take after, and more. 

Taylor’s readers will delight (and shiver) to see their lives written back to them, in kind strokes and discerning detail. 

I found particular solace in "Little Beast", the second story in this book. It follows a babysitter living an in-between life. She quite literally moves through two backyards between houses to cook dinners and care for children, but she's also unmoored from her own experiences. Tasked with managing a rambunctious girl, she instead finds a kindred spirit. 

That’s how the entire collection feels: attempted tamings turned electric understandings.
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Oh my gosh. I loved this short story collection so much. I read Real Life by Brandon Taylor and fell in love with his writing. I couldn't wait to start Filthy Animals and it did not disappoint. Taylor's writing is just so wonderful. The way he can set a scene without over explanations is a highlight. I have just recently started reading more short stories and usually, I like some stories and some I don't care much about. What I can say about this collection is that I loved all but 2 of the stories. Of those 2 stories, I like one, and only one of them was just okay. I highly recommend this book!
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I wouldn't be the first person to call this collection of stories devastating. That's not a bad thing! Some of us crave stories that are both beautiful and painful to read. I appreciated the through line of Lionel's stories, and imagined the alternating stories were in some way untold encounters that informed his character. A few selections ("Grace" in particular) hinted at a haunting that has me dying to see Taylor write some modern gothic or horror.
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